When J.J. left — which was right after the pilot got picked up — he was like, “You are going to run the show,” and I was the CEO of what amounted to a $60 million a year corporation, with no management experience. I was a writer. And I was not prepared to manage the show. Let alone overcome the creative obstacles at that speed and that rate of time. And so, what I told myself was, “You’re running the 10-K and you can make it. What’s going to happen is you’re going to do your best; nobody’s going to watch the show. The show is going to be canceled, and it’ll be like The Prisoner,” which was this other show that I loved growing up, a cult classic, ’cause they only made a season — I think there’s 13 episodes. “You’ll be a cult classic. And that’s how you’re going to survive this, ’cause you can do anything for six months.” And I had just recently proposed to my wife Heidi, and this was our first year of basically living together, and everything needed to be put on hold so that I could go and make Lost. And so I created this construct for myself, that was based on cancellation — that that was going to happen.
And even the night before the show premiered — the show premiered on a Wednesday night, I had conversations with ABC executives; the show was going to be on at 8 o’clock, and as you know, ABC was the last place network the previous seasons. And although the show was getting some critical love, the thinking was, it’s too weird, and nobody wants to watch a show about a plane crash, and also the pilot’s good, but what’s episode two going to be, let alone episode five. And I was like, right? Like, do you have any ideas for episode five? So I started to feel like a real sense of comfort then […] And then the next morning, my phone rang at around 6:10 a.m., and I’d slept like a baby that night. And it’s Thursday, I’m going into work, 6:10 a.m., my phone rang — and as soon as I heard it ring, I knew, because nobody calls you in this business with bad news. As soon as it rang, the first ring, my life changed. And then I answered the phone, and it was this guy Tom Sherman, who at the time was an executive at ABC and he said, “20 million people watched the show last night.” And I have never been more sad and depressed and overwhelmed and trapped in my life.
Lindelof goes on to reveal that the weight of expectation led him to struggle with depression:
You know, profound disconnect from the universe, total sort of exhaustion — like a desire to not do anything, loss of appetite, fantasies about — never suicidal — but fantasies about getting in car accidents that would prevent me from having to go into the work that day, because at the time that the ratings came in, we were writing episode seven, and I was like, “They’re going to make me do this 15 more times? And now, everybody’s watching!”
You can read the full interview at THR.